Senate returns to work amid Coronavirus uncertainty

The U.S. Senate comes back into session Monday for regular legislative business after most Senators stayed away from the U.S. Capitol for over a month because of the Coronavirus outbreak, but as lawmakers in both parties return to Capitol Hill, the Legislative Branch does not have the resources to test every member of Congress for the virus.

“If some of my colleagues in the Senate are really concerned that they won’t survive the process of doing what they were hired to do, then perhaps they should consider another line of work,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).

This weekend, Congressional leaders jointly rejected an offer of testing help from the White House.

"Congress is grateful for the Administration's generous offer to deploy rapid COVID-19 testing capabilities to Capitol Hill, but we respectfully decline the offer at this time," wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a rare joint statement.

"Congress wants to keep directing resources to the front-line facilities where they can do the most good the most quickly," the two leaders wrote.

The decision came as the top doctor on Capitol Hill has told leaders that there are limited tests available to see if any lawmakers have the virus.

But while Pelosi and McConnell were in agreement on their testing statement, the two leaders were taking their chambers in different directions - the House staying away from Capitol Hill, while the Senate will convene Monday afternoon.

The GOP move has drawn fire from Democrats.

"He would bring 100 senators and many more staff members and reporters into close proximity while Washington itself remains under a stay-at-home order," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said last week in a statement urging McConnell to cancel his plans.

"There is no way to do this without increased risk," Feinstein added, calling it the 'wrong example for the country.'

Unlike at the White House - where visitors coming to see President Donald Trump are given a quick test for the Coronavirus - those facilities are not in place for either the House or Senate.

"It's May 3rd, and President Trump still doesn’t have an adequate national testing strategy," said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY).

Regardless of the testing situation, much of the actual Capitol is not exactly suited to social distancing, as Senators, staff, police, security personnel, and reporters will return to work in a Capitol building which features a labyrinth of narrow corridors, cramped elevators, and tiny offices.

Up in the work space for Radio and Television reporters - some of it stuffed into the attic of the Senate side of the Capitol - journalists are supposed to maintain six feet of separation, even though they work in small booths which are barely three feet wide.

Not only is there concern about what's happening in House and Senate office space, but lawmakers say the Trump Administration needs to do more to help regular businesses deal with the uncertain future ahead.

The guidance for lawmakers from the Attending Physician of the Congress, Dr. Brian Monahan, has been basic.

"Minimize the number of staff," starts a seven page batch of guidelines for dealing with social distancing and daily health screening in Congressional workplaces.

"Visitors should use hand sanitizer upon entry and prior to departure, and utilize a face covering for the duration of their visit," the recommendations state. "Use of a face cover is voluntary but highly recommended."

The guidelines will get an immediate test on Monday as the Senate holds its first roll call vote since March 25.

The week will also bring a series of high profile hearings - like one on the President's nominee for Director of National Intelligence - where Senators will use a large committee room in order to sit far apart from each other.

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